The number of MCPS students is predicted to increase in the next few years, after unexpected hikes in kindergarten enrollment this fall. Concurrent decreases in middle and high school populations will result in budget shifts, according to recommendations presented by Superintendent Jerry Weast on Oct. 29.
Weast suggested that $1.49 billion be allocated to developing classroom space and resources over the next six years, with $257.9 million allotted to the 2008-2009 school year alone.
Weast's six-year budget is a 22.9 percent increase in funds from the previous six-year budget, and the additional expenses were attributed to the population growth across the county. The expenditures include plans for constructing environmentally friendly buildings, which will require more initial construction costs.
Overall, the number of students enrolled in MCPS this year declined by 200 or 300 students, according to MCPS Demographer Bruce Crispell. However, Crispell said that the increases in elementary school students this year will result in subsequent increases in middle and high school populations in the coming years, which was factored into the budget allocations.
Weast made his suggestions in accordance with the findings of the Capital Improvement Program, a six-year budget program for improving school facilities. The budget targeted projected increases in student population as well as increases in economically disadvantaged students.
In the last 16 years, the number of students enrolled in the Free and Reduced-price Meals Program (FARMS) has increased two-fold, and the number of ESOL students has increased three-fold, according to the report. Weast reported to the Board of Education that, because of these shifts, goals pertaining to "academic achievement" will make "closing the achievement gap harder," according to the Oct. 15 MCPS Bulletin.
Currently, the ethnic break up for MCPS students is 40 percent Caucasian, 23 percent African American, 21.5 percent Latino and 15.2 Asian American. Latinos have shown the most rapid population increases in the past few years.
Crispell said that elementary schools with a large population of FARMS students will receive additional assistance, like smaller class sizes. MCPS chose to focus on elementary schools first because the foundation of education is built there. "Those schools have been given extra support to get to those [higher] standards," Crispell said.
The increased enrollment in elementary schools will affect MCPS efforts to reduce the number of portables used, which are most common in elementary schools and were recently eliminated from Blair. The number of portables in service has decreased from 560 last year to 462, and will be at 260 by 2013, according to proposed budget.
The continuing portable reductions in elementary schools will be possible even as the population increases because of the level of new construction in the immediate future. In the next six years, 325 classrooms will be added to current elementary school facilities, said Crispell. Two new elementary schools will be opening, one in Clarksburg and the other in Downcounty Consortium to help relieve overcrowding and account for population increases.
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